A major study out of Denmark that sought to examine the efficacy of face masks at limiting the spread of COVID-19 has reportedly been rejected by multiple academic journals amid hints that the study found face coverings are not effective in protecting individuals from the coronavirus.
Masks have been among the most persistent and controversial flashpoints of the COVID-19 epidemic for months. Health officials around the world initially argued strongly against their use, claiming that studies over the years had demonstrated that masks were ineffective at stopping respiratory viruses and unnecessary for the current pandemic.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, for example, told CBS’ “60 Minutes” in March: “Right now, in the United States, people should not be walking around with masks.”
Growing concerns over a purportedly high rate of asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 led many of those same officials, including Fauci, to reverse their recommendations, urging people to wear masks whenever they go out in public.
Reflecting the new public sentiment on masks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges Americans to “wear masks in public settings, like on public and mass transportation, at events and gatherings, and anywhere they will be around other people.”
Mandates by governors and national leaders over the past several months have further enforced those conclusions, with many public leaders issuing orders for citizens to don face coverings while in grocery stores, on public transport, and even in open outdoor areas such as public parks.
Danish study has reportedly been ready for months
In spite of their now-ubiquitous presence in most of the Western world today, relatively little evidence exists to support widespread use of face-masking to prevent the spread of respiratory disease. A 2019 World Health Organization review of pandemic mitigation measures, for instance, found “no evidence” that face coverings helped to stop the spread of influenza.
Whether or not studies on influenza transmission can apply to COVID-19 is unknown; the disease’s relatively recent emergence means that scientific studies on it are in short supply. Studies can take many month to secure funding, develop methodologies, carry out experiments, interpret the findings, write a research paper and get it peer-reviewed and published.
To bridge that gap, a team of Danish scientists earlier this year sought to carry out a major randomized controlled trial study to determine how effective masks might be at stopping COVID transmission. The study, begun in April, involved around 6,000 Danish citizens, half of whom wore face coverings during “normal behavior” and the other half of whom went without them.
The study concluded in June. Yet the Copenhagen newspaper Berlingske reported this week that it has been rejected by at least three elite medical journals so far — the Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine, and JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“They all said no,” Christian Torp-Pederson, one of the study’s researchers, told the Danish newspaper this week. He added that the study’s scientists “cannot start discussing what [the journals] are dissatisfied with, because in that case we must also explain what the study showed, and we do not want to discuss that until it is published.”
The paper’s lack of publication thus far is not, on its face, unheard of. Peer review — the process by which independent experts analyze, criticize and edit scientific papers prior to publication in official journals — can take several months or more from start to finish.
Yet there have been indications that the study may be ruffling feathers among medical officials and researchers, with some of the study’s directors suggesting, cryptically, that its results may run against the grain of current public orthodoxy on mask usage. …